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Departure of Newfields CEO leaves questions for African American Coalition leader

Groups demand answers from Newfields after CEO departure

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The silence was deafening.

As News 8 has reported, 18 groups in central Indiana have joined together to condemn the actions of the Newfields art and nature museum while hoping for answers.

On Nov. 10, Colette Pierce Burnette departed a little over a year after taking the job of president and chief executive officer at Newfields.

The first Black woman to chair the Newfields board of trustees came after the February 2021 resignation of Charles Venable. Venable resigned after a controversial job listing that explained one of the job duties as “maintaining the Museum’s traditional, core, white art audience.”

Marshawn Wolley of the African American Coalition of Indianapolis told I-Team 8, “We are trying to figure out if Dr. Burnette was a victim of this, of people just not liking the pace of progress and the pace of change.”

“We noted that when there have been these exits the CEO generally get a chance to frame their exits. We don’t know if she resigned or if she was fired. It’s just the term ‘departure.’ We think that is of harm not just to Newfields, but to Dr. Burnette.” 

Surrounding Pierce Burnette’s abrupt departure, three members of the Newfields Board of trustees have resigned, most recently Adrienne Sims, who sat on the museum’s human resources committee.

Otto Frenzel IV resigned in October and Gary Hirschberg resigned from the board just hours before Pierce Burnette departed.

Wolley said, “We know that membership was up. Attendance was up. But, we also saw Dr. Burnette at our events. We saw her in the community and we also know that she repatriated African art back to Africa, and so we don’t know if maybe things move too fast for some, but, as far as we are concerned, it was moving in the right direction.”

Wolley says the museum has so far shown no signs of offering an explanation nor a willingness to open a dialogue about Pierce Burnette’s departure.